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Oversight? Nah, Don't Need It | The Nation

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The Notion

Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.

Oversight? Nah, Don't Need It

Yet another reason why Americans who believe in accountability and oversight should be pulling for Democrats to win this November…

While the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction doesn't have the teeth of an independent war profiteering commission, the office has provided some measure of oversight. But the Defense Authorization Act signed by George Bush last week "states that the inspector general's office will halt its examination of those expenditures by October of next year," James Glanz reported in The New York Times yesterday.

Oversight would then be redistributed to the Departments of State, Defense, and USAID--and that doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

"This termination plan means that billions of dollars will go without proper oversight and auditing," said Sen. Russ Feingold.

Here are some of the more troubling facts revealed by the Inspector General's latest report: overhead costs have consumed from 20 percent to 55 percent of many reconstruction project budgets. Though GOP leaders and contractors often cite security as the cause of cost overruns, the IG report said that wasn't the main reason at all. In fact, "the United States ordered the contractors and their equipment to Iraq and then let them sit idle for months at a time. The delay…was as long as nine months." And, as Jim Mitchell, spokesman for the Inspector General's office, said, "… the meter ran."

According to Mitchell, "…even the high of 55 percent could be an underestimate…because the government often did not begin tracking overhead costs for months after the companies mobilized." Further, the government tracking of expenses was "haphazard…The report's conclusions were drawn from $1.3 billion in contracts for which United States government overseers actually made an effort to track overhead costs, of the total of $18.4 billion set aside for reconstruction in specific supplemental funding bills for the 2006 fiscal year."

If you are outraged by this approach to "spreading democracy" you should be. These monies were intended to improve the lives of Iraqis, not fatten corporate coffers while squandering needed resources and burdening future generations with debt.

There is a good way to end this rampant incompetence and corruption: with a Democratic House providing oversight that can't be squelched with a stroke of the pen.

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